- Author: Margaret Owen
- Genre: YA Fantasy
- Publication Date: October 19, 2021
- Publisher: Henry Holt & Company
- Series: Little Thieves #1
CONTENT WARNING: addiction, violence, death, blood, child abuse and neglect, reference to past attempted assault
Once upon a time, there was a horrible girl…
Vanja Schmidt knows that no gift is freely given, not even a mother’s love—and she’s on the hook for one hell of a debt. Vanja, the adopted goddaughter of Death and Fortune, was Princess Gisele’s dutiful servant up until a year ago. That was when Vanja’s otherworldly mothers demanded a terrible price for their care, and Vanja decided to steal her future back … by stealing Gisele’s life for herself.
The real Gisele is left a penniless nobody while Vanja uses an enchanted string of pearls to take her place. Now, Vanja leads a lonely but lucrative double life as princess and jewel thief, charming nobility while emptying their coffers to fund her great escape. Then, one heist away from freedom, Vanja crosses the wrong god and is cursed to an untimely end: turning into jewels, stone by stone, for her greed.
Vanja has just two weeks to figure out how to break her curse and make her getaway. And with a feral guardian half-god, Gisele’s sinister fiancé, and an overeager junior detective on Vanja’s tail, she’ll have to pull the biggest grift yet to save her own life.
Margaret Owen, author of the Merciful Crow series, crafts a delightfully irreverent retelling of “The Goose Girl” about stolen lives, thorny truths, and the wicked girls at the heart of both.
After how deeply blown away I was by The Merciful Crow series, I had this book sitting on my shelf for a while because I was a little nervous about reading it. What if it didn’t live up to my super-high expectations? But have no fear, this book didn’t let me down, and I couldn’t stop reading. Now I’m just going to have to sit in agony until next year when the next book comes out.
Vanja is smart and witty and hilarious, but she’s also irreverent and damaged and incredibly morally gray. I mean, I can completely understand why—she grew up in such a harmful situation, with no one looking out for her, and people who have turned their backs on her at every turn, so it’s no surprise that she quickly learned that the only person who will look out for her every time is herself. Even though she isn’t a “good” human being, she’s easy to empathize with and I found her to be quite a likable character. I could easily understand what motivated her, and couldn’t help but admire the skill in which she maneuvered through both high society and her complicated heists.
I think part of what made her such a great character is that she was just trying to take control of her own life. She never really had any sense of control over what was happening to her life, and when she had the opportunity to exert a measure of control, she grabbed at it. And it offered her some semblance of safety, even if it wasn’t necessarily true:
“I don’t remember the last time I felt really, truly safe, but I spent most of the last year feeling safe enough behind the façade of the prinzessin. I forgot how bone-deep the exhaustion goes when you’re living in fear.”
Even so, she constantly had to struggle against outside forces. As the adopted goddaughter of two Low Gods, she was offered the choice to serve one of them, when all she wanted was to be a daughter to them and be valued as such. She’s trying to raise enough money to escape, but her most recent heist introduces some unexpected complications, namely she crosses another Low God who curses her for her greed. The god gives her two weeks to break the curse, and then to top things off, she’s got a junior prefect investigating her as the mysterious Penny Phantom.
“If not for the damned curse, I’d already be gone. And if I can’t break it fast enough to get away from not just my godmothers, but the Godly Courts, I may never make it out.”
All of this made for seriously tense reading, with plot twists coming fast and furious. The chapters were relatively short, leading me to tell myself the biggest lie I’m known for: the infamous “I’ll just read one more chapter.” I loved the interplay between the characters, especially Ragne, who quickly became a favorite of mine. The story incorporates amazing elements of German mythology and folklore, which I haven’t come across too often, and I especially enjoyed that this is a retelling of a lesser known fairy tale, The Goose Girl. In fact, I hadn’t heard of this story before now, but loved how it was retold.
It touches on the echoes that trauma has on people, and how it affects not only the people directly, but the relationships with others. The story also discusses privilege, and how it protects some while levying inordinately harsh consequences on others. Vanja and Gisele deal with this directly, especially when they switch places:
“Only someone raised as a princess could believe that following the rules would protect her.”
Following Vanja’s quest for personal freedom added a new depth and complexity to this story that propelled it into a five star read. The pressure from being cursed, investigated, and forced into situation after situation that was out of her control when all she wanted was love, acceptance, and freedom made Vanja a compelling character, while her humor made me love her even more. And I couldn’t help but crack up at the way the author managed to work in multiple awkwardly funny situations involving sausages, yes, the food. Finally, there’s a sweet romance that slides into the story perfectly.
“I’ve spent most of my life starving for independence. For freedom from Death and Fortune, from reliance on scraps the von Falbirgs tossed me, from the memory of a dwindling lantern in midwinter. But I’m learning the bitter difference between independence and self-exile. We both have poison to bleed out.”
This is an awesome story, and it’s cemented Owen’s place as one of my favorite authors. So far I’ve loved each of her books even more than the last, and I’m definitely looking forward to the next book in this series.
People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn’t an upper limit.
Gasp Factor: 15
Categories: Book Review